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Editorial: Moving toward secrecy

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Posted on April 17, 2017 |
By Angelo Lynn



Republicans, conservatives and political foes of President Obama, might recall the days they were salivating with news that George B. Kaiser, a major investor of the solar energy company Solyndra, had visited the White House on multiple occasions. Kaiser had donated to the Obama campaign, and Republicans pointed with accusatory confidence that the millions of federal subsidies to the firm, which later declared bankruptcy, must have been discussed during those White House meetings. While Kaiser denied such allegations, the important point is that Republicans — and the American people — knew that Kaiser had visited the White House, and on how many occasions, because of a transparency policy adopted by the Obama administration to keep such visitor logs public.

Trump, despite being critical of Obama for not being more open about such White House visitors, announced last week that he would be ending the practice of making the White House visitor logs public. In another flip-flop of a campaign promise, he is hiding behind the false claim of “national security,” which is bogus for a number of reasons, but chief among them is because exceptions can be made to keep information around national security issues hidden.

Obama’s purpose in making the White House visitor logs public was to shed light on which visitors, including lobbyists, gained access to the White House so the public could see who might possibly be exerting their influence over policy. Obama and the Democrats were making government more transparent.

In practice, the visitor records, which were maintained by the Secret Service, listed the names of those entering the White House along with which member of the White House staff obtained permission for them to enter, and the name of the person they were to meet.

Trump is ending the practice because he wants those business dealings secret.

Contrary to his promise to “drain the swamp,” Trump has staffed his administration with multi-millionaires and billionaires; conflicts of interests abound with each appointment, yet his administration’s vetting process has largely cut-off testimony as a cowed Republican congress has rubber-stamped Trump’s selections; the scandal of Trump’s associates and campaign staff having close connections to Russia (and of colluding to influence the election) is serious and Trump is doing everything he can to hide information to the contrary (such as revealing his recent tax returns); his plans to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, such as they are, call for creating private-public deals, which would open the way for his presidency to pay friends billions of dollars for lucrative federal projects; and Trump’s dealings outside the White House — at Trump Tower and his Palm Beach club Mar-a-Lago — add to the prospect of an administration conducting the nation’s business in secret. It all smacks of a third-world oligarchy using federal funds to enrich his cronies.

Trump’s actions are the very opposite of the transparency conservative Americans said they were clamoring for, and of which Trump promised he would deliver.

But this is not just another broken promise. What makes this worse is that Trump’s past business practices demonstrate how unprincipled he is: Trump has been sued numerous times for stiffing sub-contractors, who end up settling at a much-reduced rate because he has the funds to out-lawyer the poor Joe seeking full compensation; he has repeatedly used bankruptcy laws to “game” the system, and again stiff other businesses down the food chain; he recently shut down the Trump modeling agency because he allegedly employed foreign models who were in the country illegally, and lacked green cards or citizenship, and allegedly used that leverage to demand more work and pay lower wages; and his refusal to release his recent tax records is just another example of his complete lack of honesty, trustworthiness and transparency.

Is he hiding something? Absolutely. Does he want to set up a system in which he can reward lobbyists who cater to him and reward those loyal to him with federal contracts and other favors? What do you think? If we know anything about this president it is that he rewards loyalty — and “yes” men — above all else; he lacks principle and a sense of integrity; and success is about winning (or reaping a fortune) at all cost.

That’s why transparency is more important than ever before. That Trump is moving so quickly to keep such dealings from public view should be alarming to all Americans.

But where are the voices of Americans clamoring for Trump to “drain the swamp?” Where are the calls for more government transparency?

During his two terms, President Barack Obama voluntarily released more than six million White House visitor records. Trump’s hope is that he will release none. How is that transparent? How does that serve the American public?

Angelo Lynn

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